This is the fourteenth in a series of columns by State Rep. Sheilla Lampkin about historic sites in Monticello. Lampkin is active in historic preservation in Arkansas and has received several awards from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Association. She writes a regular historical column for several area publications.
Before we journey down South Main Street, let’s look briefly at the business history of the primary streets that begin at Monticello’s Square. We’ll start on the corner of East Gaines Street and travel to the railroad tracks, but first let’s examine how Gaines Street was named.
When Drew County was being settled in the early to mid 19th century, a trail/road was laid out between Gaines Landing on the Mississippi River and Independence, a town later to become known as Monticello, Arkansas. A man named Gaines began a settlement by the river. The past 100-plus years has seen the settlement washed into the mighty Mississippi.
The road was designated to be a freighters’ roadway and stage line route from Gaines Landing through Independence to Camden. It was called the Gaines Landing road. Freight was hauled overland from the river down this road to the outlying settlements, but the road was also a road for settlers who came to Gaines Landing by boat, then hauled their belongings west to and through the Drew County area. A stagecoach line was begun and soon mail was also being delivered along the road.
In 1849, when the city of Monticello was laid out, the portion of the road through town was named Jefferson Street, but was traditionally called Gaines Street despite the fact that it did not follow the entire original roadbed to Independence. Even so the street name was soon changed to Gaines Street to satisfy popular opinion.
Now let’s commence our historical “tour” by beginning at the corner of East Gaines and South Main Streets and continuing on to the railroad tracks on Gabbert Street. We will start on the north side of East Gaines.
As some may remember, the corner spot that faces the square was, at different times, Commercial Bank, Van-Atkins, Factory Connection, etc. Attached to the back of that building there once was a stairway facing East Gaines. A short flight of stairs led to the offices of Dr. L. W. Dillard, Dr. Garland Kimbro and Dr. A. S. J. Collins.
The next business was a popular café known as the “Hole in the Wall”. Prior to WWII a taxi “stand” was located in front of it. Well–respected Monticellonian P. Q. Gardner, among others, has memories of those days.
Next there was an early barbershop. Long before beauticians came to Monticello, the whole family came to barbershops to get their haircuts. A board would be placed across the two armrests of the barber’s chair so even small children could sit for their haircuts.
At one time the next building held a pool hall followed by a café owned by Mr. Dallas Miles. Before he got into the café business, Mr. Miles was a farmer in the summer and a freighter in the winter.
The corner business on that block was once Harvey Thomasson Sr.’s dry goods store. Later, Thomasson’s store moved to the north side of the square. I recall the Wilsons operated a professional photography shop in this same space from the 1950s until the 1970-80s. A uniform shop followed.
Crossing the street to continue down East Gaines, the space that City Drug now occupies once held Andrew Owens’ hardware store. Mr. Owens was the father of Hellums and Hearne Owens. Next was Mr. Wesley Carroll’s Shoe Shop where he repaired and half-soled shoes.
The next business was the legendary Allen Hotel. The Allen Hotel was built by Joe Lee Allen, original owner of the Allen House on North Main. It was an imposing three-story 40-room hotel constructed in 1912. The Allens have been said to have held great parties at the hotel. The Allens sold the hotel to the Curry Family in the 1920s who still owned it when it burned.
In 1943 the hotel was still very successful. On the first floor was a lobby, a restaurant, Tom Todd’s Popular Price Store, a beauty parlor and the Owen Jolley Hardware Store. The other floors held guest rooms.
On December 15 of that year an electrical fire started in the hardware store. The fire department was called and they extinguished the fire – or so it seemed. During the night the fire started again and raged until it destroyed the Allen Hotel and all the businesses located within its walls. Then high winds came up, causing an even more dangerous situation, and many feared the whole town would catch fire.
When the fire got extremely hot, some citizens recalled that bullets started exploding in the hardware store. (Needless to say, this probably slowed the fervor of the firefighters.) Prisoners from the POW camp at the fairgrounds were called out to help, as well as their fire truck and all army personnel that could be spared. The rest of the town was saved, but the Allen Hotel was gone forever.
Next door to the Allen Hotel was a big vacant lot where skating rinks and small carnivals were set up when they came to town. Elmer Curry’s furniture store was next. Beside the furniture store was a driveway that led to McCloy Street. (Was this the alley beside the old NAPA store?) I am told that the Continental Trailways buses stopped in the alley/driveway here each day for years.
Union Motor Company had its beginnings on the next site. Begun by Fay Brann and James Jackson, it handled General Motors automobiles. This site was more recently the location of the Crow-Burlingame business and a lawnmower shop. The car dealership was later sold and moved a few times. It is now Lucky’s of Monticello and is located on U.S. 425 North.
A little cottage sat on the last site beside the Chamber of Commerce office. It once was the home of Miss Lucy Lambert, a piano teacher. This building sat in the area of the present day bus station and used car dealership.
Last, but not quite least, we come to the train depot on East Gaines Street. Built around 1910 by the Iron Mountain Railroad, the little depot was later owned by both the Missouri Pacific and the AD&N railroads.
Today the property belongs to the city of Monticello. The depot was renovated in 1984 under the leadership of the late Mayor James Jordan and now houses the offices of the Monticello-Drew County Chamber of Commerce as well as a public meeting room.
This concludes our tour down East Gaines from Main to Gabbert streets. I hope you have found it interesting – and I trust I haven’t left too much out! Happy Thanksgiving!